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Baroness Helena Kennedy of The Shaws QC FRSA - Biography

Baroness Helena Kennedy

One of Britain's most distinguished lawyers and an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues, Helena Kennedy has spent her professional life giving voice to those who have least power within the system, championing civil liberties and promoting human rights.

She has used many public platforms – including the House of Lords, to which she was elevated in 1997 – to argue with passion, wit and humanity for social justice. She has also written and broadcast on a wide range of issues, from medical negligence to terrorism to the rights of women and children.

Helena is chair of Justice and is a bencher of Gray's Inn and President of the School of Oriental and African studies, University of London. She was chair of Charter 88 from 1992 to 1997, the Human Genetics Commission from 1998 to 2007 and the British Council from 1998 to 2004. She also chaired the Power Inquiry, which reported on the state of British democracy and produced the Power Report in 2006. She has received honours for her work on human rights from the governments of France and Italy and has been awarded more than thirty honorary doctorates.

In Helena's practice of law as a leading barrister she has acted in many of the most prominent cases of the last 30 years including the Brighton Bombing, the Michael Bettany espionage trial, the Guildford Four appeal and the bombing of the Israeli embassy. She was the British member of the recent International Bar Association Task Force on Terrorism. She chaired an inquiry for the Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health into sudden infant death, in the aftermath of miscarriages of justice where mothers were wrongly convicted of murdering their babies. As a life peer she also participates in the House of Lords on issues concerned with human rights, civil liberties, social justice and culture. She has led the opposition to encroachments on the right to jury trial and for her courageous stand against the government was awarded the Spectator's Parliamentary Campaigner of the Year Award in 2000.

Helena has also been a seminal force in promoting equal opportunities for women at the Bar. Ahead of her time, she was a singular voice in the 70’s and 80’s, writing and broadcasting on the discrimination experienced by women in the law, as lawyers but also as users of the law - victims and defendants. She became a member of the Bar Council to champion women in the profession and called for research into the experience of women lawyers and particularly their absence on the Bench. This led to changes in policy in the Lord Chancellor's Department and codes of practice at the Bar. For her work for women she received the Times Newspaper's Lifetime Achievement award in 1999.

As a founding member of Charter 88, the constitutional reform group which was set up in 1988 in response to growing concerns about the failure of British institutions to serve our democracy, support for the organisation swelled and she chaired the organisation with considerable energy from 1992 - 1997, calling for a written constitution, devolution, electoral reform, a bill of rights, a freedom of information act, reform of parliament and of the judiciary. With a handful of others she played a key role in persuading the New Labour Party to embrace this reform agenda as a central plank of is manifesto, which led to the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British Law and a whole range of constitutional reforms including reform of the House of Lords.

Helena was a commissioner on the National Commission for Education 1991—1993 and then chaired the Further Education Commission into Widening Participation which produced the seminal report Learning Works 1997. As a result the sector created a trust in her name - the Helena Kennedy Foundation - which provides bursaries to help the most disadvantaged in society move into Higher Education. She works assiduously with her friend Ann Limb to raise money to pay for the grants.

Because of her ability to deliver concrete change in whatever work she undertakes, she has received many public acknowledgements for her contributions. She is an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatry and also a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists. She is also a Fellow of the City and Guilds.